By Capt. Mark Incze
Joint Force Headquarters
CRANSTON, R.I. – “Nobody answering the door? I can call him if you like. I got his number right here,” the words of a concerned neighbor spoken from a front porch to a uniformed Soldier below, “he normally leaves pretty early. Normally back ‘round 1 or so. I’ll call ‘em if you need ‘em.”
When the all the gas boilers and furnaces in Newport on the coldest night of the year the Governor quickly declared a state of emergency and the Rhode Island National Guard was there to respond. Despite the cold, the Soldiers and Airmen of the RING were greeted by the helpful and smiling faces of the community.
“That’s the thing about Newport, you know. This time of year, it’s got that small-city community feel. Just like Providence, or Pawtucket. It’s a community. The people care about each other,” said Sgt. First Class Adam Seale, a Newport native and graduate of Roger High School class of 1995.
Seale, a member of the 115th Military Police Company, was one of approximately 3 dozen Soldiers and Airmen from the RING that went door to door, neighborhood by neighborhood, to ensure the needs of a community left without heat in the middle of a New England winter, were being met.
“The roads have gotten a little better…there’s more cafes since I was a kid,” says Seale. “But the heart of Newport hasn’t changed. You know, I’ve responded to dozens of state emergencies; hurricanes, floods, blizzards, all that. But it’s different when this time it’s your own home town. It’s different to knock on a door and find someone you know answering. Someone you grew up with.”
The Rhode Island National Guard was activated on January 22, 2019 as part of a state-wide emergency response after the National Grid utility company was forced to depressurize their natural gas lines in Newport and parts of Middletown due to an unsafe drop in system pressure.
“The Rhode Island National Guard is committed to support the citizens of Rhode Island and our communities as directed by the Governor. Our members are proud to respond and assist in any way that we can in order to help our communities,” said Maj. Jeffrey Lessard, the Rhode Island National Guard Public Affairs Officer.
Several units were activated to be a part of the response. RING veterans from the 115th Military Police Company, the 861st Engineer Company, the 143d Airlift Wing, and other prominent units were activated to be a part of the joint agency emergency response. No strangers to the defense support to civil authorities (DSCA) mission, the Rhode Island National Guard has been activated more than a dozen times in recent memory for natural and man-made disasters. The Soldiers and Airmen of the RING remain flexible and can serve in a wide variety of support roles, depending on the situation and the needs of partner organizations.
“The Rhode Island National Guard is an active part of the incident response team. We have Soldiers and Airmen on the ground, going door to door to check on the health and welfare of our affected neighbors,” said Capt. Domenic Fruci, an Operations Officer with the Rhode Island National Guard’s Joint Operations Center, “we’ve also assisted the Red Cross in staffing warming shelters across the state for those people who have no heat. We’ve even delivered portable heaters to some of our most vulnerable families.”
The Rhode Island National Guard is dedicated to the safety and welfare of its communities across the state. Every disaster is different and requires a different package of personnel and services. A new twist for this incident was the need for Spanish-English translators, a need the RING was able to meet easily thanks to its diversity.
“After the first day the Incident Commander identified a difficulty in passing timely information to some of the more vulnerable neighborhoods in Newport,” said Fruci, “so we put out the call for Soldiers and Airmen fluent in Spanish to help with the door information campaign. I was floored by how many volunteers we had. It seemed like everyone wanted to help out.”
The Rhode Island National Guard was able to put together 30 bilingual door to door information teams overnight. Soldiers and Airmen from Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Fall River went neighborhood to neighborhood in Newport and manned warming shelters across the state to assist in communicating the latest updates to the affected customers.
The RING was officially demobilized as part of the deliberate de-escalation of the emergency response team on Sunday, January 27, 2019, to include the bilingual communication teams. With the gas main being re-pressurized and the ignition of customers’ furnaces nearing completion, the Soldiers and Airmen of the RING were released from state active duty.
“That’s how we operate,” said Lessard, “by design we’re an organization that can rapidly mobilize a response, adapt to any unique situation, and return to our every day jobs once it [the situation] is handled. This is what we train for. It’s who we are.”
By Monday morning the Rhode Island National Guard had returned to its regular peacetime mission; recruiting, equipping, and training relevant and ready forces, prepared equally for service across the globe, or in downtown Newport.
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